SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100 IS HERE AGAIN!!!

Image result for masked ball in painting

1. Matthew Zapruder: Hurricane Matthew. Hired by the Times to write regular poetry column. Toilet papered the house of number 41.

2. Edward Hirsch: Best American Poetry 2106 Guest Editor.

3. Christopher Ricks: Best living critic in English? His Editorial Institute cancelled by bureaucrats at Boston University.

4. Joie Bose: Living Elizabeth Barrett Browning of India.

5. Sherman Alexie: Latest BAP editor. Still stung from the Chinese poet controversy.

6. Jorie Graham: Boylston Professor of Oratory and Rhetoric at Harvard

7. W.S Merwin: Migration: New and Selected Poems, 2005

8. Terrance Hayes: “I am not sure how a man with no eye weeps.”

9. George Bilgere: “I consider George Bilgere America’s Greatest Living Poet.” –Michael Heaton, The Plain Dealer

10. Billy Collins: Interviewed Paul McCartney in 2014

11. Stephen Cole: Internet Philosopher poet. “Where every thing hangs/On the possibility of understanding/And time, thin as shadows,/Arrives before your coming.”

12. Richard Howard: National Book Award Winner for translation of Les Fleurs du Mal in 1984.

13. William Logan: The kick-ass critic. Writes for the conservative New Criterion.

14. Sharon Olds: Stag’s Leap won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2012.

15. Nalini Priyadarshni: “Denial won’t redeem you/Or make you less vulnerable/My unwavering love just may.”  Her new book is Doppelgänger in my House.

16. Stephen Dobyns: “identical lives/begun alone, spent alone, ending alone”

17. Kushal Poddar: “You wheel out your mother’s latte silk/into the picnic of moths.” His new book is Scratches Within.

18. Jameson Fitzpatrick: “Yes, I was jealous when you threw the glass.”

19. Marilyn Chin: “It’s not that you are rare/Nor are you extraordinary//O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree”

20. E J Koh: “I browsed CIA.gov/for jobs”

21. Cristina Sánchez López: “If the moon knows dying, a symbol of those hearts, which, know using their silence as it was an impossible coin, we will have to be like winter, which doesn’t accept any cage, except for our eyes.”

22. Mark Doty: His New and Selected won the National Book Award in 2008.

23. Meghan O’ Rourke: Also a non-fiction writer, her poetry has been published in the New Yorker.

24. Alicia Ostriker: Born in Brooklyn in 1937.

25. Kay Ryan: “One can’t work by/ lime light.”

26. A.E. Stallings: Rhyme, rhyme, rhyme.

27. Dana Gioia: Champions Longfellow.

28. Marilyn Hacker: Antiquarian bookseller in London in the 70s.

29. Mary Oliver: “your one wild and precious life”

30. Anne Carson: “Red bird on top of a dead pear tree kept singing three notes and I sang back.”

31. Mary Jo Bang: “A breeze blew a window open on a distant afternoon.”

32. Forrest Gander: “Smoke rises all night, a spilled genie/who loves the freezing trees/but cannot save them.”

33. Stephen Burt: Author of Randall Jarrell and his Age. (2002)

34. Ann Lauterbach: Her latest book is Under the Sign (2013)

35. Richard Blanco: “One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes/tired from work”

36. Kenneth Goldsmith: “Humidity will remain low, and temperatures will fall to around 60 degrees in many spots.”

37. Rita Dove: Her Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry is already 5 years old.

38. Stephen Sturgeon: “blades of the ground feathered black/in moss, in the sweat of the set sun”

39. Marjorie Perloff: Her book, Unoriginal Genius was published in 2010.

40. Kyle Dargan: His ghazal, “Points of Contact,” published in NY Times: “He means sex—her love’s grip like a fist.”

41. Alan Cordle: Foetry.com and Scarriet founder.

42. Lyn Hejinian: “You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.”

43. Stephen Dunn: Lines of Defense: Poems came out in 2014.

44. Ocean Vuong: “Always another hour to kill—only to beg some god/to give it back”

45. Marie Howe: “I am living. I remember you.”

46. Vanessa Place: Controversial “Gone with the Wind” tweets.

47. Helen Vendler: Reviewed Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom, editor Ben Mazer, in the NYR this spring.

48. Martin Espada: Vivas To Those Who Have Failed is his new book of poems from Norton.

49. Carol Muske-Dukes: Poet Laureate of California from 2008 to 2011.

50. Sushmita Gupta: Poet and artist. Belongs to the Bollyverses renaissance. Sushness is her website.

51. Brad Leithauser: A New Formalist from the 80s, he writes for the Times, the New Criterion and the New Yorker.

52. Julie Carr: “Either I loved myself or I loved you.”

53. Kim Addonizio: Tell Me (2000) was nominated for a National Book Award.

54. Glynn Maxwell: “This whiteness followed me at the speed of dawn.”

55. Simon Seamount: His epic poem on the lives of philosophers is Hermead.

56. Maggie Dietz: “Tell me don’t/ show me and wipe that grin/ off your face.”

57. Robert Pinsky: “When you were only a presence, at Pleasure Bay.”

58. Ha Jin: “For me the most practical thing to do now/is not to worry about my professorship.”

59. Peter Gizzi: His Selected Poems came out in 2014.

60. Mary Angela Douglas: “the steps you take in a mist are very small”

61. Robyn Schiff: A Woman of Property is her third book.

62. Karl Kirchwey: “But she smiled at me and began to fade.”

63. Ben Mazer: December Poems just published. “Life passes on to life the raging stars”

64. Cathy Park Hong: Her battle cry against Ron Silliman’s reactionary Modernists: “Fuck the avant-garde.”

65. Caroline Knox: “Because he was Mozart,/not a problem.”

66. Henri Cole: “There is no sun today,/save the finch’s yellow breast”

67. Lori Desrosiers: “I wish you were just you in my dreams.”

68. Ross Gay: Winner of the 2016 $100,000 Kingsley Tufts award.

69. Sarah Howe: Loop of Jade wins the 2016 T.S. Eliot Prize.

70. Mary Ruefle: Published by Wave Books. A favorite of Michael Robbins.

71. CA Conrad: His blog is (Soma)tic Poetry Rituals.

72. Matvei Yankelevich: “Who am I alone. Missing my role.”

73. Fanny Howe: “Only that which exists can be spoken of.”

74. Cole Swensen: “Languor. Succor. Ardor. Such is the tenor of the entry.”

75. Layli Long Soldier: “Here, the sentence will be respected.”

76. Frank Bidart: Student and friend of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.

77. Michael Dickman: “Green sky/Green sky/Green sky”

78. Deborah Garrison: “You must praise the mutilated world.”

79. Warsan Shire: “I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes/On my face they are still together.”

80. Joe Green: “I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.”

81. Joan Houlihan: Took part in Franz Wright Memorial Reading in Harvard Square in May.

82. Frannie Lindsay: “safe/from even the weak sun’s aim.”

83. Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright: Translates contemporary German poetry.

84. Noah Cicero: This wry, American buddhist poet’s book is Bi-Polar Cowboy.

85. Jennifer Barber: “The rose nude yawns, rolls over in the grass,/draws us closer with a gorgeous laugh.”

86. Tim Cresswell: Professor of history at Northeastern and has published two books of poems.

87. Thomas Sayers Ellis: Lost his job at Iowa.

88. Valerie Macon: Surrendered her North Carolina Poet Laureate to the cred-meisters.

89: David Lehman: Best American Poetry editor hates French theory, adores tin pan alley songs, and is also a poet .”I vote in favor/of your crimson nails”

90: Ron Silliman: Silliman’s Blog since 2002.

91: Garrison Keillor: The humorist is also a poetry anthologist.

92: Tony Hoagland: “I wonder if this is a legitimate category of pain/or whether he is just spin doctoring a better grade”

93. Alfred Corn: One of the most distinguished living poets.

94. Philip Nikolayev: He values spontaneity and luck in poetry, logic in philosophy.

95. Laura Kasischke: Read her poem, “After Ken Burns.”

96. Daipayan Nair: “I was never a part of the society. I have always created one.”

97. Claudia Rankine: Her prize-winning book is Citizen.

98. Solmaz Sharif: Her book Look is from Graywolf.

99. Morgan Parker: Zapruder published her in the NY Times.

100. Eileen Myles: She makes all the best-of lists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

W.S. MERWIN TAKES ON JULIE CARR

Poets should not depend on things, on pictures, on colors: that’s for painters.

All the best poets know that “no ideas but in things” is the worst possible advice for the poet.

Ideas use things in poetry, but poetry is speech.  Adding measured emphasis (metrics) is never unwise; our own experiments (too complex to write about here) show music to be a poetry too excitable for words, but still containing ideas—which live behind every good image in every good poem.

When reading essays: read what they think.

When reading poems: read what they do.

But in both cases, the essence is an idea.  Philosophical acumen is the basis of all artful communication.

The greatest poets have always warned: avoid cheap politics and avant-garde tricks, which are just excuses to be lazy and stupid.

Classical learning is the only learning.

Small beer is small beer.  Snot on the sleeve is snot on the sleeve.

There’s nothing magical out there. Daddy Ezra can’t help you. Only classical learning and your pretty face can.

William Stanley (W.S.) Merwin has been publishing poetry for 60 years; he managed to make contact with icons in his youth—guys like Pound and Robert Graves and Berryman and Blackmur and T.S. Eliot—he’s a pretty famous poet (also a translator), but unfortunately, no famous poems. Merwin abandoned punctuation in his poetry in a beat/hippie move when he was in his 40s—when he was in a bit of a crisis and leaving Europe for good and coming back to America in the late 1950s.

Merwin understands that poetry is speech, and leaving off punctuation was the earnest attempt to make ‘speech-which-is-not-speech,’ or trembling, misty poetry, and to a large extent he has succeeded in that regard.

Merwin has said that in abandoning punctuation, he was leaving the page where punctuation nails things down to embrace how people talk, which is almost the same thing, though it misses the point of punctuation, which helps talking—it does not hinder it.

But Merwin is a good poet because he plays with ideas, and came to realize Pound was dead wrong about the image, and so much else. “The intellectual coherence of Pound’s work is something that I don’t any longer believe in.”  (Paris Review interview, 1986).

you know there was never a name for that color

One can see in this one line Merwin, the poet, rejecting all the painter’s tricks—those the silly Imagists insisted poets try—and instead, exploding with iambic and anapest rhythms, raining down upon us an idea, in the implied question: what does it mean, exactly, when a color doesn’t have a name?

Merwin, first seed, will be tough to beat with this one.

Julie Carr began as a classical dancer, and to dance, you need music, and poetry is a kind of dance to music—we don’t hear the music but we see the dance, the poetry.

Julie Carr is also a mother, and still young, and as soon as she turned to poetry, she accumulated awards; reading her, one gets the feeling when it comes to the flags and banners of poetic speech, she got it, and got it quickly.

Either I loved myself or I loved you.

This line has a kind of delicious despair, a romantic power; there is an intoxicating idea in the symmetry displayed in “Either I loved myself or I loved you.”

We have no doubt this contest will be a very interesting one.

 

 

 

2016 SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS!! BEST CONTEMPORARY LINES OF POETRY COMPETE!!!

Scarriet: You know the rules, don’t you?

Marla Muse: Rules?

Scarriet: The March Madness rules.

Marla: Of course!  A sudden death playoff within four brackets. The winner of each bracket makes it to the Final Four, and then a champ is crowned!

Scarriet: We have 64 living poets, represented by their best lines of poetry—and these lines will compete for the top prize.

Marla: Exciting! To be sad, to be happy, or intrigued, or fall into a reverie—from a single line!  Only the best poets can do that to you!  Are all of these exceptional poets?

Scarriet: Of course they are.  The New Wave of Calcutta poetry is represented; poets who have won prizes recently; poets published in the latest BAP; some fugitive poets; and we’ve included a few older lines from well-known poets to populate the top seeds, for a little historical perspective.

Marla: A famous line of poetry!  It seems impossible to do these days.

Scarriet: There are more poets today. And no one is really famous. Some say there are too many poets.

Marla: Marjorie Perloff!

Scarriet: Maybe she’s right.

Marla: Enough of this. Let’s see the brackets!  The poets!  The lines!

Scarriet: Here they are:

 

NORTH BRACKET

Donald Hall–To grow old is to lose everything.

Jorie Graham–A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls.

Mary Oliver–You do not have to be good.

Anne Carsondon’t keep saying you don’t hear it too.

Robert Haas–So the first dignity, it turns out, is to get the spelling right.

Maura Stanton–Who made me feel by feeling nothing.

Sean O’Brien–‘People’ tell us nowadays these views are terribly unfair, but these forgiving ‘people’ aren’t the ‘people’ who were there.

Warsan Shire–I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes—on my face they are still together.

Ben Mazer–All is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.

Melissa Green–They’ve mown the summer meadow.

Peter Gizzi–No it isn’t amazing, no none of that.

Traci Brimhall–I broke a shell to keep it from crying out for the sea.

Molly Brodak–boundlessness secretly exists, I hear.

Charles Hayes–Her sweaty driver knows his load is fair.

Jeet Thayil–There are no accidents. There is only God.

Jennifer Moxley–How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.

 

WEST BRACKET

Louise Gluck–The night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.

A.E. Stallings–The woes were words, and the only thing left was quiet.

Patricia Lockwood–How will Over Niagara Falls In A Barrel marry Across Niagara Falls On A Tightrope?

Kevin Young–I want to be doused in cheese and fried.

Ross Gay–One never knows does one how one comes to be.

Andrew Kozma–What lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.

Denise Duhamel–it’s easy to feel unbeautiful when you have unmet desires

Sarah Howe–the razory arms of a juniper rattling crazily at the edge of that endless reddening haze.

Emily Kendal Frey–How can you love people without them feeling accused?

Cristina Sánchez López–Have you heard strings? They seem like hearts that don’t want to forget themselves.

Natalie Scenters-Zapico–apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway

Donna Masini–Even sex is no exit. Ah, you exist.

Meredith Haseman–The female cuckoo bird does not settle down with a mate. Now we make her come out of a clock.

Candace G. Wiley–My dear black Barbie, maybe you needed a grandma to tell you things are better than they used to be.

Ada Limón–just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours.

Mary Angela Douglas–The larks cry out and not with music.

 

EAST BRACKET

Marilyn Hacker–You happened to me.

Charles Simic–I could have run into the streets naked, confident anyone I met would understand.

Laura Kasischke–but this time I was beside you…I was there.

Michael Tyrell–how much beauty comes from never saying no?

Susan Terris–Cut corners   fit in   marry someone.

Chana Bloch–the potter may have broken the cup just so he could mend it.

Raphael Rubinstein–Every poet thinks about every line being read by someone else.

Willie Perdomo–I go up in smoke and come down in a nod.

Tim Seibles–That instant when eyes meet and slide away—even love blinks, looks off like a stranger.

Lori Desrosiers–I wish you were just you in my dreams.

Philip Nikolayev–I wept like a whale. You had changed my chemical composition forever.

Stephen Sturgeon–City buses are crashing and I can’t hear Murray Perahia.

Joie Bose–Isn’t that love even if it answers not to the heart or heat but to the moment, to make it complete?

Kushal Poddar–Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Marilyn Chin–It’s not that you are rare, nor are you extraordinary, O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree.

Stephen Cole–Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming.

 

 

SOUTH BRACKET

W.S. Merwin–you know there was never a name for that color

Richard Wilbur–not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only

Terrance Hayes–Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours.

Claudia Rankine–How difficult is it for one body to see injustice wheeled at another?

Richard Blanco–One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes tired from work.

Brenda Hillman–Talking flames get rid of hell.

Les Murray–Everything except language knows the meaning of existence.

Susan Wood–The simple fact is very plain. They want the bitterness to remain.

Lawrence Raab–nothing truly seen until later.

Joe Green–I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.

Lynn Hejinian–You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.

Connie Voisine–The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds

Rowan Ricardo Phillips–It does not not get you quite wrong.

Chumki Sharma–After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Nalini Priyadarshni–Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Julie Carr–Either I loved myself or I loved you.

 

 

 

 

 

YES! ANOTHER SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100!!!

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1. Vanessa Place —The High Creator does not create.

2. Kenneth Goldsmith —Death to the “creative” once and for all.

3. Simon Armitage —Best known for 9/11 poem, wins Oxford Poetry Professorship

4. A.E. Stallings —Lost the Oxford. World is still waiting for a good New Formalist poet.

5. John Ashbery —Doesn’t need to be good. Unlike New Formalists, his content and form agree.

6. Marjorie Perloff —Must confront this question: is the “non-creative” nearly racist by default?

7. Ron Silliman —Keeps tabs on the dying. Burned by the Avant Racism scandal.

8. Stephen Burt —Stephanie goes to Harvard.

9. Rita Dove —We asked her about Perloff; she laughed. No intellectual pretense.

10. Claudia Rankine —Social confrontation as life and death.

11. Juan Felipe Herrera —New U.S. Poet Laureate. MFA from Iowa. Farm workers’ son.

12. William Logan —“Shakespeare, Pope, Milton by fifth grade.” In the Times. He’s trying.

13. Patricia Lockwood —“Rape Joke” went Awl viral.

14. Lawrence Ferlinghetti —At 96, last living Beat.

15. Richard Wilbur —At 94, last living Old Formalist.

16. Don Share —Fuddy-duddy or cutting edge? It’s impossible to tell with Poetry.

17. Valerie Macon —Good poet. Hounded from NC Laureate job for lacking creds.

18. Helen Vendler —New book of essays a New Critical tour de force. Besotted with Ashbery and Graham.

19. Cathy Park Hong —Fighting the racist Avant Garde.

20. David Lehman —As the splintering continues, his BAP seems less and less important.

21. Billy Collins —His gentle historical satire is rhetoric nicely fitted to free verse.

22. David Orr —Common sense critic at the Times.

23. Frank Bidart —Student of Lowell and Bishop, worked with James Franco. Drama. Confessionalism.

24. Kevin Coval —Co-editor of Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop.

25. Philip Nikolayev —Globe-trotting translator, editor, poet.

26. Ben Mazer —Neo-Romantic. Has advanced past Hart Crane.

27. Amy KingHates mansplaining. 

28. Sharon Olds —Best living female poet?

29. Louise Gluck —Her stock is quietly rising.

30. Jorie Graham —Her Collected has landed.

31. George Bilgere —If you like Billy Collins…and what’s wrong with that?

32. Garrison Keillor —Is he retiring?

33. Kent Johnson —Is his Prize List so quickly forgotten?

34. David Biespiel —One of the villagers trying to chase Conceptualism out of town.

35. Carol Ann Duffy —The “real” Poet Laureate—she’s Brih-ish.

36. Cate Marvin —Poet who leads the VIDA hordes.

37. Lyn Hejinian —The best Language Poet?

38. Dan ChiassonNew Yorker house critic.

39. Michael Robbins —As with Logan, we vastly prefer the criticism to the poetry.

40. Joe Green —His Selected, The Loneliest Ranger, has been recently published.

41. Harold Bloom —The canonizer.

42. Dana Gioia —The best of New Formalism.

43. Seth Abramson —Meta-Modernism. That dog won’t hunt.

44. Henry Gould —Better at responding than asserting; reflecting the present state of Criticism today.

45. W.S. Merwin —Knew Robert Graves—who recommended mushroom eating (yea, that kind of mushroom) as Oxford Poetry Professor in the 60s.

46. Marilyn Chin —Passionate lyricist of “How I Got That Name.”

47. Anne Carson —“The Glass Essay” is a confessional heartbreak.

48. Terrence Hayes —Already a BAP editor.

49. Timothy Steele —Another New Formalist excellent in theorizing—but too fastidious as a poet.

50. Natasha Trethewey —Was recently U.S. Poet Laureate for two terms.

51. Tony Hoagland —Hasn’t been heard from too much since his tennis poem controversy.

52. Camille Paglia —Aesthetically, she’s too close to Harold Bloom and the New Critics.

53. William Kulik —Kind of the Baudelaire plus Hemingway of American poetry. Interesting, huh?

54. Mary Oliver —Always makes this list, and we always mumble something about “Nature.”

55. Robert Pinsky —He mentored VIDA’s Erin Belieu.

56. Alan Cordle —We will never forget how Foetry.com changed the game.

57. Cole Swensen –A difficult poet’s difficult poet.

58. Charles Bernstein —One day Language Poetry will be seen for what it is: just another clique joking around.

59. Charles Wright —Pulitzer in ’98, Poet Laureate in ’14.

60. Paul Muldoon New Yorker Nights

61. Geoffrey Hill —The very, very difficult school.

62. Derek Walcott —Our time’s Homer?

63. Janet Holmes —Program Era exemplar.

64. Matthew Dickman —The youth get old. Turning 40.

65. Kay Ryan —Are her titles—“A Ball Rolls On A Point”—better than her poems?

66. Laura Kasischke —The aesthetic equivalent of Robert Penn Warren?

67. Nikki Finney —NAACP Image Award

68. Louis Jenkins —His book of poems, Nice Fish, is a play at the American Repertory Theater this winter.

69. Kevin Young —A Stenger Fellow who studied with Brock-Broido and Heaney at Harvard

70. Timothy Donnelly —His Cloud Corporation made a big splash.

71. Heather McHugh —Her 2007 BAP guest editor volume is one of the best.

72. D.A. Powell —Stephen Burt claims he is original and accessible to an extraordinary degree.

73. Eileen Myles —We met her on the now-defunct Blog Harriet Public Form.

74. Richard Howard —Pulitzer-winning essayist, critic, translator and poet

75. Robert Hass —U.S. Poet Laureate in the 90s, a translator of haiku and Milosz.

76. Rae Armantrout —Emily Dickinson of the Avant Garde?

77. Peter Gizzi —His Selected, In Defense of Nothing, came out last year.

78. Fanny Howe —Is it wrong to think everything is sacred? An avant-garde Catholic.

79. Robert Archambeau —His blog is Samizdat. Rhymes with Scarriet.

80. X.J. Kennedy —Keeping the spirit of Frost alive.

81. Robert PolitoPoetry man.

82. David Ferry —Classical poetry translator.

83. Mark Doty —A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

84. Al Filreis  —Co-founder of PennSound

85. Frederick Seidel —Has been known to rhyme malevolence with benevolence.

86. Sherman Alexie —Is taught in high school. We wonder how many on this list are?

87. Marie Howe —Margaret Atwood selected her first book for a prize.

88. Carol Muske-Dukes —In recent Paris Review interview decried cutting and pasting of “Unoriginal Genius.”

89. Martha Ronk —In the American Hybrid anthology from Norton.

90. Juliana Spahr —Has a PhD from SUNY Buffalo. Hates “capitalism.”

91. Patricia Smith —Four-time winner of the National Poetry Slam.

92. Dean Young —His New & Selected, Bender, was published in 2012.

93. Jennifer Knox —Colloquial and brash.

94. Alicia Ostriker —“When I write a poem, I am crawling into the dark.”

95. Yusef Komunyakaa —Known for his Vietnam poems.

96. Stephen Dunn —His latest work is Lines of Defense: Poems.

97. Thomas Sayer Ellis —Poet and photographer.

98. Carolyn Forche —Lannan Chair in Poetry at Georgetown University.

99. Margaret Atwood —Poet, novelist, and environmental activist.

100. Forrest Gander —The Trace is his latest.

 

 

 

 

 

SCARRIET 2015 MARCH MADNESS—THE GREATEST LINES IN POETRY COMPETE

BRACKET ONE

1. Come live with me, and be my love, And we will all the pleasures prove That hills and valleys, dales and field, And all the craggy mountains yield. (Marlowe)

2. Every Night and every Morn Some to Misery are born. Every Morn and every Night Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to endless night.  (Blake)

3. Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine; And I was desolate and sick of an old passion, Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head: I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion. (Dowson)

4. April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. (Eliot)

5. No motion has she now, no force; She neither hears nor sees; Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course, With rocks, and stones and trees. (Wordsworth)

6. If the red slayer think he slays, Or if the slain think he is slain, They know not well the subtle ways I keep, and pass, and turn again. (Emerson)

7. The sea is calm tonight, The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits;—on the French coast the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. (Arnold)

8. When I am dead and over me bright April Shakes out her rain-drenched hair, Though you should lean above me broken-hearted, I shall not care. (Teasdale)

9. The soul selects her own society, Then shuts the door; On her divine majority Obtrude no more. (Dickinson)

10. We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile. (Dunbar)

11. This is the waking landscape Dream after dream walking away through it Invisible invisible invisible (Merwin)

12. I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkampf look And a love of the rack and the screw, And I said I do, I do. (Plath)

13. It is easy to be young. (Everybody is, at first.) It is not easy to be old. It takes time. Youth is given; age is achieved. (May Swenson)

14. There is no disorder but the heart’s. But if love goes leaking outward, if shrubs take up its monstrous stalking, all greenery is spurred, the snapping lips are overgrown, and over oaks red hearts hang like the sun. (Mona Von Duyn)

15. Long life our two resemblances devise, And for a thousand years when we have gone Posterity will find my woe, your beauty Matched, and know my loving you was wise. (Michelangelo)

16. Caesar’s double-bed is warm As an unimportant clerk Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK On a pink official form. (Auden)

BRACKET TWO

1. Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds Or bends with the remover to remove. (Shakespeare)

2. In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea. (Coleridge)

3. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. (Barrett)

4. Say to the Court, it glows And shines like rotten wood; Say to the Church, it shows What’s good, and doth no good: If Church and Court reply, Then give them both the lie. (Raleigh)

5. Helen, thy beauty is to me Like those Nicaean barks of yore, That gently o’er a perfumed sea, The weary, wayworn wanderer bore To his own native shore. (Poe)

6. Some for the Glories of This World; and some Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise to come; Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go, Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum! (Omar Khayyam)

7. Yet it creates, transcending these, Far other worlds and other seas; Annihilating all that’s made To a green thought in a green shade. (Marvell)

8. The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea, The ploughman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me. (Gray)

9. O hark, O hear! how thin and clear, And thinner, clearer, farther going! O, sweet and far from cliff and scar The horns of Elfland faintly blowing! Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying, Blow bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying. (Tennyson)

10. I have a rendezvous with Death, At some disputed barricade, When Spring comes back with rustling shade And apple-blossoms fill the air. (Seeger)

11. I have put my days and dreams out of mind, Days that are over, dreams that are done. Though we seek life through, we shall surely find There is none of them clear to us now, not one. (Swinburne)

12. When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d, And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night, I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring. (Whitman)

13. O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, Alone and palely loitering? The sedge has withered from the lake, And no birds sing. (Keats)

14. Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village, though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. (Frost)

15. If her horny feet protrude, they come To show how cold she is, and dumb. Let the lamp affix its beam. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. (Stevens)

16. I was, being human, born alone; I am, being a woman, hard beset; I live by squeezing from a stone The little nourishment I get. (Wylie)

BRACKET THREE

1. The world was all before them, where to choose Their place of rest, and Providence their guide: They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow Through Eden took their solitary way. (Milton)

2. Though the night was made for loving, And the day returns too soon, Yet we’ll go no more a roving By the light of the moon. (Byron)

3. I arise from dreams of thee In the first sweet sleep of night, When the winds are breathing low, And the stars are shining bright. (Shelley)

4. What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. (Owen)

5. We have heard the music, tasted the drinks, and looked at colored houses. What more is there to do, except to stay? And that we cannot do. And as a last breeze freshens the top of the weathered old tower, I turn my gaze Back to the instruction manual which has made me dream of Guadalajara. (Ashbery)

6. Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives. Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives. (Sassoon)

7. Why is it no one ever sent me yet One perfect limousine, do you suppose? Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get One perfect rose. (Parker)

8. The shopgirls leave their work quietly. Machines are still, tables and chairs darken. The silent rounds of mice and roaches begin. (Reznikoff)

9. It’s not my business to describe anything. The only report is the discharge of words called to account for their slurs. A seance of sorts—or transport into that nether that refuses measure. (Bernstein)

10. I came to explore the wreck. The words are purposes. The words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail. I stroke the beam of my lamp slowly along the flank of something more permanent than fish or weed. (Rich)

11. When I see a couple of kids And guess he’s fucking her and she’s Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm, I know this is paradise Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives (Larkin)

12. I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground. So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind: Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned with lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned. (Millay)

13. Those four black girls blown up in that Alabama church remind me of five hundred middle passage blacks in a net, under water in Charlestown harbor so redcoats wouldn’t find them. Can’t find what you can’t see can you? (Harper)

14. It’s good to be neuter. I want to have meaningless legs. There are things unbearable. One can evade them a long time. Then you die. (Carson).

15. On my way to bringing you the leotard you forgot to include in your overnight bag, the snow started coming down harder. I watched each gathering of leafy flakes melt round my footfall. I looked up into it—late afternoon but bright. Nothing true or false in itself. (Graham)

16. The rape joke is that you were 19 years old. The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend. The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee. Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. (Lockwood)

BRACKET FOUR

1. Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer, harried for years on end, after he plundered the stronghold on the proud height of Troy. (Homer)

2. And following its path, we took no care To rest, but climbed, he first, then I—so far, through a round aperture I saw appear Some of the beautiful things that heaven bears, Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars. (Dante)

3. With usura, sin against nature, is thy bread ever more of stale rags is thy bread dry as paper, with no mountain wheat, no strong flour with usura the line grows thick with usura is no clear demarcation and no man can find site for his dwelling. Stonecutter is kept from his stone weaver is kept from his loom WITH USURA (Pound)

4. I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin. Oh, how I love the resoluteness of that first person singular followed by that stalwart indicative of “be,” without the uncertain i-n-g of “becoming.” Of course, the name had been changed somewhere between Angel Island and the sea. (Chin)

5.  Dreaming evil, I have done my hitch over the plain houses, light by light: lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. A woman like that is not a woman, quite. I have been her kind. (Sexton)

6. I loved you; and the hopelessness I knew, The jealousy, the shyness—though in vain—Made up a love so tender and so true As God may grant you to be loved again. (Pushkin)

7. We cannot know his legendary head And yet his torso is still suffused with brilliance from inside, like a lamp, in which his gaze is turned down low, burst like a star: for here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life. (Rilke)

8. So much depends on the red wheel barrow glazed with rain water besides the white chickens. (Williams)

9. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night. (Ginsberg)

10. The Walrus and the Carpenter Walked on a mile or so, And then they rested on a rock Conveniently low: And all the little Oysters stood And waited in a row. (Carroll)

11. What dire offense from amorous causes springs, What mighty contests rise from trivial things; Slight is the subject, but not so the praise, If she inspire, and he approve my lays. (Pope)

12. Harpo was also, know this, Paul Revere. And Frankenstein, and Dracula, and Jane. Or would you say that I have gone insane? What would you do, then, to even the score? (Mazer)

13. Come, read to me a poem, Some simple and heartfelt lay, That shall soothe this restless feeling, And banish the thoughts of day. (Longfellow)

14. So Penelope took the hand of Odysseus, not to hold him back but to impress this peace on his memory: from this point on, the silence through which you move is my voice pursuing you. (Gluck)

15. Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so: From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow. (Donne)

16. I lost two cities, lovely ones. And vaster, Some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. The art of losing isn’t hard to master. (Bishop)

17. Practice your beauty, blue girls, before it fail; And I will cry with my loud lips and publish Beauty which all our power will never establish, It is so frail. (Ransom)

HERE WE GO AGAIN: SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

Dark Messy Tower

1. Mark Edmundson Current Lightning Rod of Outrage

2. David Lehman BAP Editor now TV star: PBS’ Jewish Broadway

3. Rita Dove She knows Dunbar is better than Oppen

4. Matthew Hollis Profoundly researched Edward Thomas bio

5. Paul Hoover Status quo post-modern anthologist, at Norton

6. Don Share Wins coveted Poetry magazine Editorship

7. Sharon Olds Gets her Pulitzer

8. Michael Robbins The smartest guy writing on contemporary poetry now–see Hoover review

9. Marjorie Perloff Still everyone’s favorite Take-No-Prisoners Dame Avant-Garde

10. Natasha Trethewey Another Round as Laureate

11. Ron Silliman The Avant-garde King

12. Tony Hoagland The Billy Collins of Controversy

13. Billy Collins The real Billy Collins

14. Kenneth Goldsmith Court Jester of Talked-About

15. Terrance Hayes The black man’s Black Man’s Poet?

16. William Logan Favorite Bitch Critic

17. Avis Shivani Second Favorite Bitch Critic

18. John Ashbery Distinguished and Sorrowful Loon

19. Stephen Burt P.C. Throne at Harvard

20. Robert Hass  West Coast Establishment Poet

21. Harold Bloom Reminds us ours is an Age of Criticism, not Poetry

22. Helen Vendler She, in the same stultifying manner, reminds us of this, too.

23. Dana Gioia  Sane and Optimistic Beacon?

24. Bill Knott An On-line Bulldog of Poignant Common Sense

25. Franz Wright Honest Common Sense with darker tones

26. Henry Gould Another Reasonable Poet’s Voice on the blogosphere

27. Anne Carson The female academic poet we are supposed to take seriously

28. Seth Abramson Will give you a thousand reasons why MFA Poetry is great

29. Ben Mazer Poet of the Poetry! poetry! More Poetry! School who is actually good

30. Larry Witham Author, Picasso and the Chess Player (2013), exposes Modern Art/Poetry cliques

31. Mary Oliver Sells, but under Critical assault

32. Annie Finch The new, smarter Mary Oliver?

33. Robert Pinsky Consensus seems to be he had the best run as Poet Laureate

34. Mark McGurl His book, The Program Era, has quietly had an impact

35. Seamus Heaney Yeats in a minor key

36. W.S. Merwin Against Oil Spills but Ink Spill his writing method

37. George Bilgere Do we need another Billy Collins?

38. Cate Marvin VIDA will change nothing

39. Philip Nikolayev Best living translator?

40. Garrison Keillor As mainstream poetry lover, he deserves credit

41. Frank Bidart Poetry as LIFE RUBBED RAW

42. Jorie Graham The more striving to be relevant, the more she seems to fade

43. Alan Cordle Strange, how this librarian changed poetry with Foetry.com

44. Janet Holmes Ahsahta editor and MFA prof works the po-biz system like no one else

45. Paul Muldoon How easy it is to become a parody of oneself!

46. Cole Swensen Some theories always seem to be missing something

47. Matthew Dickman Was reviewed by William Logan. And lived

48. James Tate For some reason it depressed us to learn he was not a laugh riot in person.

49. Geoffrey Hill His poetry is more important than you are

50. Derek Walcott A great poet, but great poets don’t exist anymore

51. Charles Bernstein A bad poet, but bad poets don’t exist anymore, either

52. Kay Ryan Emily Dickinson she’s not. Maybe Marianne Moore when she’s slightly boring?

53. Laura Kasischke She’s published 8 novels. One became a movie starring Uma Thurman. Who the hell does she think she is?

54. Louise Gluck X-Acto!

55. Rae Armantrout “Quick, before you die, describe the exact shade of this hotel carpet.”

56. Heather McHugh “A coward and a coda share a word.”

57. D.A. Powell “Of course a child. What else might you have lost.”

58. Peter Gizzi Take your lyric and heave

59. Marilyn Chin Shy Iowa student went on to write an iconic 20th century poem: How I Got That Name

60. Eileen Myles Interprets Perloff’s avant-gardism as mourning

61. Lyn Hejinian As I sd to my friend, because I am always blah blah blah

62. Nikki Finney Civil Rights is always hot

63. K. Silem Mohammad This Flarfist Poet composes purely Anagram versions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Fie on it.

64. Meg Kearney Lectured in public by Franz Wright. Still standing.

65. Noah Eli Gordon Teaches at Boulder, published by Ahsahta

66. Peter Campion A poet, a critic and a scholar!

67. Simon Ortiz Second wave of the Native American Renaissance

68. Maya Angelou She continues to travel the world

69. Lyn Lifshin “Barbie watches TV alone, naked” For real?

70. Ange Mlinko Born in ’69 in Philly, writes for The Nation

71. Jim Behrle They also serve who only write bad poetry

72. Elizabeth Alexander She read in front of all those people

73. Dorothea Lasky The Witchy Romantic School

74. Virgina Bell The poet. Do not confuse with burlesque dancer

75. Fanny Howe Wreaks havoc out of Boston

76. Erin Belieu Available for VIDA interviews

77. Ariana Reines Another member of the witchy romantic school

78. Jed Rasula Old Left poetry critic

79. John Hennessy “Too bad I felt confined by public space/despite her kinky talk, black net and lace”

80. Timothy Donnelly “Driver, please. Let’s slow things down. I can’t endure/the speed you favor, here where the air’s electric”

81. Clive James His translation, in quatrains, of Dante’s Divine Comedy, published this year

82. Danielle Pafunda “We didn’t go anywhere, we went wrong/in our own backyard. We didn’t have a yard,/but we went wrong in the bedroom”

83. Michael Dickman Matthew is better, right?

84. Kit Robinson “Get it first/but first get it right/in the same way it was”

85. Dan Beachy Quick “My wife found the key I hid beneath the fern./My pens she did not touch. She did not touch/The hundred pages I left blank to fill other days”

86. Ilya Kaminsky Teaches at San Diego State, won Yinchuan International Poetry Prize

87. Robert Archambeau Son of a potter, this blog-present poet and critic protested Billy Collins’ appointment to the Poet Laureateship

88. Kent Johnson Best known as a translator

89. Frederick Seidel An extroverted Philip Larkin?

90. David Orr Poetry columnist for New York Times wrote on Foetry.com

91. Richard Wilbur Oldest Rhymer and Moliere translator

92. Kevin Young Finalist in Criticism for National Book Critics Circle

93. Carolyn Forche Human rights activist born in 1950

94. Carol Muske Dukes Former California Laureate writes about poetry for LA Times

95. William Kulik Writes paragraph poems for the masses

96. Daniel Nester The sad awakening of the MFA student to the bullshit

97. Alexandra Petri Began 2013 by calling poetry “obsolete” in Wash Post

98. John Deming Poet, told Petri, “We teach your kids.”

99. C. Dale Young “Medical students then, we had yet to learn/when we could or could not cure”

100. Clayton Eshleman Sometimes the avant-garde is just boring

MERWIN V. WALCOTT IN THE MIDWEST/SOUTH

Walcott_young

W.S. Merwin, who just finished serving out his Poet Laureateship, was born in NYC.  But Scarriet put him in the South bracket because Merwin is associated with Robert Graves (early Fugitive) and with Princeton—where Southern Fugitive and Agrarian, Allen Tate, started one of the nation’s first Poetry workshop there in the early 40s.  The New Critics—who sprang directly from the Agrarians in Tennessee—hatched the Creative Writing Industry, and agrarianism, or environmentalism, for some odd reason, is tied up with the origins of the writing workshop industry: think of conservationist Wallace Stegner, the first Writing Workshop director in the west, and his student Wendell Berry, for instance.  Merwin has eco-creds and poet-creds galore, and Merwin has to be seen as part of this early agrarian movement.  When Merwin came of age as a poet in the 50s, the editor everyone worshiped was John Crowe Ransom, the leader of the agrarians/turned New Critics.  Berryman (at Princeton) and Lowell (a student of Ransom and Workshop teacher) were part of this clique, as well. Merwin’s friend Robert Graves preached psychodelic mushroom consumption when he was professor of Oxford in the 60s. American intellectual life and British hippie philosophy cohere in many ways, and Merwin is nothing if not a back-to-the-earth hippie.   The South/Midwest brackett was dominated by black poets this year, because Rita Dove put them in her Penguin anthology.  Now we have Merwin, the one white player in this division, trying to enter the Final Four and win the Midwest/South—against Derek Walcott, the Nobel poet of Caribbean lore.   If 19th century poetry featured introspection, beauty, and the sublime, 20th century poetry was mostly about nature, place and transience.

Walcott sings of the classical, but from the fringes, where his poetry bodies it as if it still exists.  The following is an excerpt from Walcott’s long poem, Omeros, and appears as it does in Dove’s anthology.  “Another River” is Merwin’s.

Good luck, gentleman.  One of you will advance to Scarriet’s 2012 Final Four.

from Omeros, Book VII

I sang of Achille, Afolabe’s son,
who never ascended in an elevator,
who had no passport, since the horizon needs none,

never begged nor borrowed, was nobody’s waiter,
whose end, when it comes, will be a death by water
(which is not for this book, which will remain unknown

and unread by him). I sang the only slaughter
that brought him delight, and that from necessity—
of fish, sang the channels of his back in the sun.

I sang our wide country, the Caribbean Sea.
Who hated shoes, whose soles were as cracked as a stone,
who was gentle with ropes, who had one suit alone,

whom no man dared insult and who insulted no one,
whose grin was a white breaker cresting, but whose frown
was a growing thunderhead, whose fist of iron

would do me a greater honour if it held on
to my casket’s oarlocks than mine lifting his own
when both anchors are lowered in the one island,

but now the idyll dies, the goblet is broken,
and rainwater trickles down the brown cheek of a jar
from the clay of Choiseul. So much left unspoken

by my chirping nib! And my earth-door lies ajar.
I lie wrapped in a flour-sack sail. The clods thud
on my rope-lowered canoe. Rasping shovels scrape

a dry rain of dirt on its hold, but turn your head
when the sea-almond rattles or the rust-leaved grape
from the shells of my unpharaonic pyramid

towards paper shredded by the wind and scattered
like white gulls that separate their names from the foam
and nod to a fisherman with his khaki dog

that skitters from the wave-crash, then frown at his form
for swift second. In its earth-trough, my pirogue
with its brass-handled oarlocks is sailing. Not from

but with them, with Hector, with Maud in the rhythm
of her beds trowelled over, with a swirling log
lifting its mossed head from the swell; let the deep hymn

of the Caribbean continue my epilogue;
may waves remove their shawls as my mourners walk home
to their rusted villages, good shoes in one hand,

passing a boy who walked through the ignorant foam,
and saw a sail going out or else coming in,
and watched asterisks of rain puckering the sand.

ANOTHER RIVER

The friends have gone home far up the valley
of that river into whose estuary
the man from England sailed in his own age
in time to catch sight of the late forests
furring in black the remotest edges
of the majestic water always it
appeared to me that he arrived just as
an evening was beginning and toward the end
of summer when the converging surface
lay as a single vast mirror gazing
upward into the pearl light that was
already stained with the first saffron
of sunset on which the high wavering trails
of migrant birds flowed southward as though there were
no end to them the wind had dropped and the tide
and the current for a moment seemed to hang
still in balance and the creaking and knocking
of wood stopped all at once and the known voices
died away and the smells and rocking
and starvation of the voyage had become
a sleep behind them as they lay becalmed
on the reflection of their Half Moon
while the sky blazed and then the tide lifted them
up the dark passage they had no name for

Both of these poems are enveloped in nature and celebrate nature, more so than even in the works of Wordsworth— who seems a man standing apart from nature, compared to the effusions of these two poets, who are washed away by the waves.

Walcott is a little more skilled in depicting nature and putting charm in his verses.  Merwin is plainer and writes almost with a hushed address, as if his voice were intentionally small and far away.

Walcott 81 Merwin 77

DEREK WALCOTT MAKES THE FINAL FOUR!

W.S.MERWIN V. RITA DOVE

President Obama has Rita Dove going all the way in his Scarriet Poetry Tournament office pool.

Rita Dove will have to defeat M.S. Merwin in the South/Midwest Bracket’s semi-final to make it into the Elite Eight.  Her Penguin 20th Americna Poetry anthology has been the centerpiece of this year’s Scarriet March Madness Tourney—stretching its excitement and thrills into June.  Dove has three poems in her own controversial Penguin anthology and has barged into the Sweet 16 by knocking off young black poets.  Trashed by critics Helen Vendler and William Logan, Dove stands proud thanks to the success of her poems in Scarriet’s Tournament.  But she’ll have to beat the distinguished poet W.S. Merwin to advance.  Merwin brings this poem (from Dove’s anthology) to the table:

FOR THE ANNIVERSARY OF MY DEATH

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

We always feel slightly miffed at Merwin’s lack of punctuation—for whom does it serve?  Does Merwin (like a child) feel no punctuation adds poetic mystique to his work?

The idea of Merwin’s poem is an interesting one—the unknown anniversary of one’s death—and he gives it a fairly cursory treatment.  We are not thrilled by this poem, but we don’t dislike it, except for the reason mentioned above.

Rita Dove picked the following poem of hers for inclusion in her Penguin anthology of poems of the 20th Century:

AFTER READING MICKEY IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN FOR THE THIRD TIME BEFORE BED

I'm in the milk and the milk's in me! ...I'm Mickey!

My daughter spreads her legs
to find her vagina:
hairless, this mistaken
bit of nomenclature
is what a stranger cannot touch
without her yelling. She demands
to see mine and momentarily
we’re a lopsided star
among the spilled toys,
my prodigious scallops
exposed to her neat cameo.

And yet the same glazed
tunnel, layered sequences.
She is three; that makes this
innocent. We’re pink!
she shrieks, and bounds off.

Every month she wants
to know where it hurts
and what the wrinkled string means
between my legs. This is good blood
I say, but that’s wrong, too.
How to tell her that it’s what makes us—
black mother, cream child.
That we’re in the pink
and the pink’s in us.

This is a lovely poem, but we have no idea what “That we’re in the pink/and the pink’s in us” is supposed to signify.  Except for the charm of a mother and young child glimpsed, we have no idea what this poem is trying to do.  Is it pleased with itself that it is somewhat risque’ in content?  We are baffled.

Sorry, Mr. President!  You lose the office pool!

Merwin 88 Dove 69

HERE’S THE SWEET 16!

sweet 16

Before we formally congratulate the Scarriet Sweet 16 poets of 2012, who, pound for pound, are probably the most entertaining poets alive today, the poets least likely to bore you, the poets who simply have a high batting average of poems sure to interest, amuse, or move the common reader—before we congratulate them, we should address the burning issue which always seems to loom over this enterprise: we refer to the poets and readers of poetry who balk at the idea of poetry used as fodder for competition.

First, we would say the competition is the fodder, not the poetry.  The ancient Greeks, who had drama competitions in front of crowds, understood this.

The poetry contest, of which distinguished U.S. poets have so long been a part, is competitive—but since the process of picking winners is shrouded in secrecy, the process does not offend.

But there is absolutely no difference between what Scarriet does with March Madness and what the more distinguished elements of po-biz do with their contests and prizes.

The reason competition offends probably has to do with sex. Sex is all about ‘who is hotter,’ whereas love entails ‘being loved forever for who I am.’   The former creates anxiety, the latter comfort. Love rules morals. All literature has a moral basis.  These unspoken laws are surely the underpinning to the disquiet and protest which greets Scarriet’s attempt to toss poems onto a horse track.

Judgment, or the Critical Faculty, ride the horses, however.  “Judge not” is a moral injunction, not a literary one.  To write is to get on a horse.

Love cannot be escaped when we make moral judgments—but poems are not moral in the same way people are.  We hope the morals of the people are in the poems.  Morals, however, do not make us love poems as poems—which exist apart from human moral issues, simply because they are poems, not people.  This does not mean that poems are not moral, or that poems camot create a moral universe; what it means is that poems themselves are immune to moral concerns.  The decree against poems competing arises from the mistaken idea that poems are morally attached to their authors—they are not; and if they are good poems, this is especially true.  The moral person makes the moral poem, but something happens when the moral travels from the person to the poem—it transforms into something which is no longer moral, even though morals was the impetus.  The objection to poems competing assumes poems are continually creating the moral worlds of their authors in such a manner that they cannot be interrupted from that task, ever.  Which is pure folly.  Those who are really moral persons do not rely heavily on moral attachments between poem and person.  This is my poem, do not touch it! is the sentiment of the moralist who will never write a good poem in the first place.

There are many people who cannot reconcile the fact that morals are both oppressive and good.  But here’s the happy thing about poems.  The good should be present in the person writing the poem, even to an oppressive degree, but once the poem comes into existence, this moral creation, because it is a poem, escapes the oppressive  aspect of morals entirely while still being moral—that is, written by a moral person.  Art is the means by which the moral escapes its oppressive character.

Judging art is not a moral act, but an entirely free act;  judging cannot escape competition; judging cannot escape the horse race, for comparison is always at the heart of the knowing that is judging.  Comparison cannot escape competition. The horses cannot stand still while we judge.

Here they are, most from the Dove anthology, and all living:

EAST: Ben Mazer, Billy Collins, Franz Wright, Mary Oliver,

MIDWEST/SOUTH: Rita Dove, Derek Walcott, W.S. Merwin, Patricia Smith 

NORTH: Phil Levine, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Dunn, Louise Gluck

WEST: Sharon Olds, Matthew Dickman, Heather McHugh, Marilyn Chin 

Congratulations to the winners!

ELIZABETH ALEXANDER V. M.S. MERWIN

Merwin hunts for Sweet 16 in the Scarriet March Madness 2012 Tournament

M.S. Merwin ousted Kevin Young in a close match and Elizabeth Alexander narrowly defeated Carl Phillips.  Both now go head-to-head for the final Sweet 16 spot in the Midwest/South.

Alexander is well-represented in Dove’s anthology.  “The Venus Hottentot (1825)” refers to a real 19th century event, a sad event involving wealthy and scientific Europeans and an African.  The poet is more anxious to speak for the victim; the first part in which the scientist speaks feels tossed-off.

THE VENUS HOTTENTOT (1825)HEr

1. Cuvier

Science, science, science!
Everything is beautiful

blown up beneath my glass.
Colors dazzle insect wings.

A drop of water swirls
like marble. Ordinary

crumbs become stalactites
set in perfect angles

of geometry I’d thought
impossible. Few will

ever see what I see
through this microscope..

Cranial measurements
crowd my notebook pages,

and I am moving closer,
close to how these numbers

signify aspects of
national character.

Her genitalia
will float inside a labeled

pickling jar in the Musée
de l’Homme on a shelf

above Broca’s brain:
“The Venus Hottentot.”

Elegant facts await me.
Small things in this world are mine.

2.

There is unexpected sun today
in London, and the clouds that
most days sift into this cage
where I am working have dispersed.
I am a black cutout against
a captive blue sky, pivoting
nude so the paying audience
can view my naked buttocks.

I am called “Venus Hottentot.”
I left Capetown with a promise
of revenue: half the profits
and my passage home: A boon!
Master’s brother proposed the trip;
the magistrate granted me leave.
I would return to my family
a duchess, with watered-silk

dresses and money to grow food,
rouge and powders in glass pots,
silver scissors, a lorgnette,
voile and tulle instead of flax,
cerulean blue instead
of indigo. My brother would
devour sugar-studded non-
pareils, pale taffy, damask plums.

That was years ago. London’s
circuses are florid and filthy,
swarming with cabbage-smelling
citizens who stare and query,
“Is it muscle? bone? Or fat?”
My neighbor to the left is
The Sapient Pig, “The Only
Scholar of His Race.” He plays

at cards, tells time and fortunes
by scraping his hooves. Behind
me is Prince Kar-mi, who arches
like a rubber tree and stares back
at the crowd from under the crook
of his knee. A professional
animal trainer shouts my cues.
There are singing mice here.

“The Ball of Duchess DuBarry”:
In the engraving I lurch
towards the belles dames, mad-eyed, and
they swoon. Men in capes and pince-nez
shield them. Tassels dance at my hips.
In this newspaper lithograph
my buttocks are shown swollen
and luminous as a planet.

Monsieur Cuvier investigates
between my legs, poking, prodding,
sure of his hypothesis.
I half expect him to pull silk
scarves from inside me, paper poppies,
then a rabbit! He complains
at my scent and does not think
I comprehend, but I speak

English. I speak Dutch. I speak
a little French as well, and
languages Monsieur Cuvier
will never know have names.
Now I am bitter and now
I am sick. I eat brown bread,
drink rancid brother. I miss good sun,
miss Mother’s sadza. My stomach

is frequently queasy from mutton
chops, pale potatoes, blood sausage.
I was certain that this would be
better than farm life. I am
the family entrepreneur!
But there are hours in every day
to conjure my imaginary
daughters, in banana skirts

and ostrich-feather fans.
Since my own genitals are public
I have made other parts private.
In my silence, I possess
mouth, larynx, brain, in a single
gesture. I rub my hair
with lanolin, and pose in profile
like a painted Nubian

archer, imagining gold leaf
woven through my hair, and diamonds.
Observe the wordless Odalisque.
I have not forgotten my Xhosa
clicks. My flexible tongue
and healthy mouth bewilder
this man with his rotting teeth.
If he were to let me rise up

from this table, I’d spirit
his knives and cut out his black heart,
seal it with science fluid inside
a bell jar, place it on a low
shelf in a white man’s museum
so the whole world could see it was shriveled and hard,
geometric, deformed, unnatural.

The historical facts in this case are interesting, but in poems of this kind, the question must always be asked: what is it that makes the presentation interesting?  The historical facts, or the poem?  And here we must say the facts.  The attempt at the end to add some drama doesn’t really work: the notion of a “black” heart that is both “geometric” and “unnatural” seems both too obvious, and too much of a stretch.

M.S. Merwin is given four poems by Dove in her anthology.   The following, unlike Alexander’s, is personal, plain, but it, too, burdens itself with a rather heavy moral—though in Merwin’s poem it does unfold in a somewhat subtle manner.

.YESTERDAY

My friend says I was not a good son
you understand
I say yes I understand

he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know

even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes

he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father

he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me

oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my fathers hand the last time
he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me

oh yes I say

but if you are busy he said
I don’t want you to feel that you
have to
just because I’m here

I say nothing

he says my father
said maybe
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I dont want to keep you

I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
you know

though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do

“I don’t want to keep you” and “I got up and left him then” both have more than one meaning in the psychological climate of the poem, which feels very sad, very angry, very WASPy.

The poems evince a certain amount of skill, but they both finally prove unsatisfying.

A close game—Merwin advances, 68-67.

The four Sweet 16 winners in the Midwest/South:

Rita Dove, Derek Walcott, Patricia Smith, and M.S. Merwin.

KEVIN YOUNG VERSUS W.S. MERWIN!

Kevin Young, Dove anthology youngster, hopes to advance in Scarriet’s March Madness.

Marla, this is an exciting Midwest/South brackett match-up: Old v. New.   A white, establishment poet, born in 1927, W.S. Merwin, takes on Kevin Young, a black poet born in 1970!  I can’t wait!

Marla Muse: What-eva.

Why so glum?

Marla Muse: (sigh) Just bring on the poetry.   Black and white doesn’t interest me…

Ebony and Iv-o-reeeee…

Marla Muse: Quit it.

M.S. Merwin knew Robert Graves, studied at one of the first Writers Workshops at Princeton in the 1940s, was chosen by W.H. Auden for the Yale Younger in 1952, knew Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and chucked punctuation in New York in the 1960s.  In 2010 he was chosen as U.S. Poet Laureate.  He lives in Hawaii and is very eco-friendly.

Dove has included one Merwin poem with punctuation and three without.

The question, how important is punctuation? is an interesting one.  Edgar Poe thought it very important—not just in terms of grammar use, but for poetic expression.  

We might ask: does exactitude help, or hinder, anything we are trying to do?  Surely exactitude must help, and therefore, punctuation must be good.

Even here in the poem with punctuation, Merwin’s use of it is dull: he only uses periods and a few commas—almost like he was already wishing it away.

AIR

Naturally it is night.
Under the overturned lute with its
One string I am going my way
Which has a strange sound.

This way the dust, that way the dust.
I listen to both sides
But I keep right on.
I remember the leaves sitting in judgment
And then winter.

I remember the rain with its bundle of roads.
The rain taking all its roads.
Nowhere.

Young as I am, old as I am,

I forget tomorrow, the blind man.
I forget the life among the buried windows.
The eyes in the curtains.
The wall
Growing through the immortelles.
I forget silence
The owner of the smile.

This must be what I wanted to be doing,
Walking at night between the two deserts,
Singing.

A lute with one string describes Merwin’s poetry very well.  He plucks his notes very deliberately.  Let me establish this visual.  Let me establish this fact.  Clearly.  However, making sense individually, they don’t quite make sense together.  And this is the poetry.  Unable to reject the clarity of the individual impressions, the reader is forced to accept the less than clear fact of the whole, which becomes, by nature of its liquid transformation, the poem.

Ordinarily, the poet would resist parts losing clarity in the whole—and punctuation is useful precisely in this resistance.   Merwin, however, has a different idea; he wants his poem to be unclear, as in a dream.

In this poem, by Kevin Young, we notice many things: like the Merwin, there’s a lot of verbs, a lot of action, to keep the interest; a place is established, with someone traveling through that place.  Secondly, in both poems, the indicative mood is played for all its worth.  Declarative sentences reign.  Thirdly, Young’s punctuation is more creative.  Fourthly, Young’s imperative mood gives his poem direction and momentum, as well.  Fifthly, Young’s landscape is real, unlike Merwin’s.

QUIVIRA CITY LIMITS

for Thomas Fox Averill

Pull over. Your car with its slow
breathing. Somewhere outside Topeka

it suddenly all matters again,
those tractors blooming rust

in the fields only need a good coat
of paint. Red. You had to see

for yourself, didn’t you; see that the world
never turned small, transportation

just got better; to learn
we can’t say a town or a baseball

team without breathing in a
dead Indian. To discover why Coronado

pushed up here, following the guide
who said he knew fields of gold,

north, who led them past these plains,
past buffaloes dark as he was. Look.

Nothing but the wheat, waving them
sick, a sea. While they strangle

him blue as the sky above you
The Moor must also wonder

when will all this ever be enough?
this wide open they call discovery,

disappointment, this place my
thousand bones carry, now call home.

Young’s poem is dream-like, but no dream.  Merwin’s is dream-like and definitely a dream.

Both poems show skill, but they finally feel light.   Young’s poem feels a little lecture-y. 

Merwin wins 78-72.

SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

All ye need to know?

1. Rita Dove—Penguin editor reviewed by Helen Vendler in the NYRB
2. Terrance Hayes—In Dove’s best-selling anthology, and young
3. Kevin Young—In Dove’s anthology, and young
4. Amiri Baraka—In Dove’s anthology
5. Billy Collins—in the anthology
6. John Ashbery—a long poem in the anthology
7. Dean Young—not in the anthology
8. Helen Vendler—hated the anthology
9. Alan CordleTime’s masked Person-of-the-Year = Foetry.com’s once-anonymous Occupy Poetry protestor?
10. Harold Bloom—you can bet he hates the anthology
11. Mary Oliver—in the anthology
12. William Logan—meanest and the funniest critic (a lesson here?)
13. Kay Ryan—our day’s e.e. cummings
14. John Barr—the Poetry Man and “the Man.”
15. Kent Johnson—O’Hara and Koch will never be the same?
16. Cole Swensen—welcome to Brown!
17. Tony Hoagland—tennis fan
18. David Lehman—fun lovin’ BAP gate-keeper
19. David Orr—the deft New York Times critic
20. Rae Armantrout—not in the anthology
21. Seamus Heaney—When Harvard eyes are smilin’
22. Dan Chiasson—new reviewer on the block
23. James Tate—guaranteed to amuse
24. Matthew Dickman—one of those bratty twins
25. Stephen Burt—the Crimson Lantern
26. Matthew Zapruder—aww, everybody loves Matthew!
27. Paul MuldoonNew Yorker Brit of goofy complexity
28. Sharon Olds—Our Lady of Slightly Uncomfortable Poetry
29. Derek Walcott—in the anthology, latest T.S. Eliot prize winner
30. Kenneth Goldsmith—recited traffic reports in the White House
31. Jorie Graham—more teaching, less judging?
32. Alice Oswald—I don’t need no stinkin’ T.S. Eliot Prize
33. Joy Harjo—classmate of Dove’s at Iowa Workshop (in the anthology)
34. Sandra Cisneros—classmate of Dove’s at Iowa Workshop (in the anthology)
35. Nikki Giovanni—for colored girls when po-biz is enuf
36. William Kulik—not in the anthology
37. Ron Silliman—no more comments on his blog, but in the anthology
38. Daisy Fried—setting the Poetry Foundation on fire
39. Eliot Weinberger—poetry, foetry, and politics
40. Carol Ann Duffy—has Tennyson’s job
41. Camille Dungy—runs in the Poetry Foundation forest…
42. Peter Gizzi—sensitive lyric poet of the hour…
43. Abigail Deutsch—stole from a Scarriet post and we’ll always love her for it…
44. Robert Archambeau—his Samizdat is one of the more visible blogs…
45. Michael Robbins—the next William Logan?
46. Carl Phillips—in the anthology
47. Charles NorthWhat It Is Like, New & Selected chosen as best of 2011 by David Orr
48. Marilyn Chin—went to Iowa, in the anthology
49. Marie Howe—a tougher version of Brock-Broido…
50. Dan Beachy-Quick—gotta love that name…
51. Marcus Bales—he’s got the Penguin blues.
52. Dana Gioia—he wants you to read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, so what r u waiting 4?
53. Garrison Keillor—the boil on the neck of August Kleinzahler
54. Alice Notley—Penguin’s Culture of One by this Paris-based author made a lot of 2011 lists
55. Mark McGurl—won Truman Capote Award for 2011’s The Program Era: Rise of Creative Writing
56. Daniel Nester—wrap your blog around my skin, yea-uh.
57. Yusef Komunyakaa—in the anthology
58. Adrienne Rich—in the anthology
59. Jeremy Bass— reviewed the anthology in the Nation
60. Anselm Berrigan—somebody’s kid
61. Travis Nichols—kicked us off Blog Harriet
62. Seth Abramson—poet and lawyer
63. Stephen Dunn—one of the best poets in the Iowa style
64. Philip Levine—Current laureate, poem recently in the New Yorker  Movin’ up!
65. Ben Mazer—Does anyone remember Landis Everson?
66. Reb Livingston—Her No Tells blog rocks the contemporary scene
67. Marjorie Perloff—strutting avant academic
68. John Gallaher—Kent Johnson can’t get enough punishment on Gallaher’s blog
69. Fred Viebahn—poet married to the Penguin anthologist
70. James Fenton—said after Penguin review hit, Dove should have “shut up”
71. Rodney Jones—BAP poem selected by Dove riffs on William Carlos Williams’ peccadilloes
72. Mark Doty—no. 28’s brother
73. Cate Marvin—VIDA and so much more
74. Richard Wilbur—still hasn’t run out of rhyme
75. W.S. Merwin—no punctuation, but no punk
76. Jim Behrle—the Adam Sandler of po-biz
77. Bin Ramke—still stinging from the Foetry hit
78. Thomas Sayer Ellis—not in the anthology
79. Henri Cole—poetry editor of the New Republic
80. Meghan O’Rourke—Behrle admires her work
81. Anne Waldman—the female Ginsberg?
82. Anis Shivani—get serious, poets! it’s time to change the world!
83. Robert Hass—Occupy story in Times op-ed
84. Lyn Hejinian—stuck inside a baby grand piano
85. Les Murray—greatest Australian poet ever?
86. Sherman Alexie—is this one of the 175 poets to remember?
87. Geoffrey Hill—great respect doesn’t always mean good
88. Elizabeth Alexander—Frost got Kennedy, she got Obama
89. A.E. Stallings—A rhymer wins MacArthur!
90. Frank Bidart—in the anthology
91. Robert Pinsky—in the anthology
92. Carolyn Forche—in the anthology
93. Louise Gluck—not in the anthology
94. Keith Waldrop—his Hopwood Award paid her fare from Germany
95. Rosmarie Waldrop—her Hopwood helpled launch Burning Deck
96. C.D. Wright—born in the Ozark mountains
97. Forrest Gander—married to no. 96
98. Mark Strand—translator, surrealist
99. Margaret Atwood—the best Canadian poet of all time?
100. Gary B. Fitzgerald—the poet most likely to be remembered a million years from now

WE SAW IT COMING AND NOW THE FACELESS COMMITTEE HAS SPOKEN: IT’S MERWIN

In Scarriet’s latest Hot 100 List (May 28, 2010) we put Merwin at no. 25 and said “the oil spill has moved Merwin way up the list.”

(For some strange reason, Franz Wright found Scarriet’s bit of insight infuriatingComment #13: “The words on Merwin actually take you to the level of obscenity and genuine evil.” –FW)  ???

Today, July 1, the New York Times wrote:

“Some will call his selection now safe, dull, uncontroversial, blah. And they’ll have a point. It is not the kind of choice that makes one leap up and blow hard into a vuvuzela.

But Mr. Merwin’s appointment is potentially inspired. He is an exacting nature poet, a fierce critic of the ecological damage humans have wrought. Helen Vendler, writing last year in The New York Review of Books, called him ‘the prophet of a denuded planet.’ With the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico becoming more dread and apocalyptic by the hour, Mr. Merwin may be a poet we’ll need.”

OK, sure, a bit of a no-brainer, but just a little more proof that Scarriet’s got the zeitgeist covered, baby! 

MERWIN-ISM EXPLAINED

 

W.S. Merwin belongs most properly to Anglo-New Criticsm.  Merwin began his career as a houseboy for Robert Graves, a formalist who knew the Fugitives; later Graves would advocate mushroom-use as Poetry Professor at Oxford in the 1960s.  Merwin was also at Princeton when Allen Tate started one of the first Writing Programs there.  Merwin knew Hughes and Plath.  Later Merwin dropped punctuation as he found his style, making a name for himself as a kind of serious, quiet radical in the 1960s and 70s in the U.S. 

The Anglo-New Critic has faith in unparaphrasable prose meaning and this essentially defines the poetry: prose which cannot be paraphrased.  

We can detect in this faith the New Critical dictum that form is an extension of content.

Agendas, beliefs, meanings have merit, so much merit that they have the power not only to utter prose meaning but to shape poetic effect; here is the hard-headed Brit’s belief in practical, hard-nosed common-sense, but there’s a hippie mystical element as well, this very belief that prose doesn’t need anything but itself to will itself into poetry. 

The fact is, most “practical” Brits are just a little muddled, their practicality somewhat grim, isolated, daft and headstrong, and so the style is rather easy to come by: prose that is slightly muddled, worldly, and proudly distant, with a strong element of grass-shirt emotional naturalism—this fits the bill exactly.

Let me demonstrate.   I’m just writing this off the top of my head:

I found you walking
you tricked my ideality into
believing the river
the sea-grass at
the sea-entrance near
the rock carvings which faced
the sea was a journey’s end 
just out of sight the surf
beyond where the beach fog
bends into the night
can be heard behind
the rough curtain every
plover hiding in the grasses
crying where the feeding
ground darkly gathering it is
night and I might go
where I can see small fish
worms crabs
in pools clear as light
before the morning
burns itself into the sand

There it is: Merwin-ism.  I would have done a bit better if I had been naked and slightly intoxicated, lying in a lagoon, but you get the idea.

MERWIN LAST NIGHT AT HARVARD

Seen from afterward the time appears to have been
all of a piece which of course it was but how seldom
it seemed that way when it was still happening and was
the air through which I saw it as I went on thinking
of somewhere else in some other time whether gone
or never to arrive and so it was divided
however long I was living it and I was where
it kept coming together and where it kept moving apart
while home was a knowledge that did not suit every occasion
but remained familiar and foreign as the untitled days
and what I knew better than to expect followed me
into the garden and I would stand with friends among
the summer oaks and be a city in a different
age and the dread news arrived on the morning when the
plum trees
opened into silent flower and I could not let go
of what I longed to be gone from and it would be that way
without end I thought unfinished and divided
by nature and then a voice would call from the field
in the evening or the fox would bark in the cold night
and that instant with each of its stars just where it was
in its unreturning course would appear even then
entire and itself the way it all looks from afterward.

HARVARD, April 30, 2010. Jorie Graham was worried about the oil slick.  She said it was “extraordinary” that W.S. Merwin was coming to visit the “campus” and especially during “these days.”  She told everyone to be very quiet.  Then she had eight of her poetry students, all in a line, recite, robot-like, Merwin’s old poetry from the early 1960s.   The poems all sounded alike and they were read in the same sort of monotone, with slight feeling, and the students looked and sounded a bit uncomfortable—whether it was from Jorie Graham’s presence or from the oil slick moving towards the Louisiana coast, it was hard to tell.  It wasn’t from the poems themselves, however, which rolled off their tongues, understood, or not understood, in this line or that.   The recitations had a certain degree of quiet elegance, even when uttered with an air of disdainful Crimson confidence; Merwin’s poetry is always quietly elegant, if not much more.

The audience was certainly quiet; there was hardly a peep for the hour and a half presentation.  No one seemed to register any feeling or thought, for there was very little feeling or thinking expressed in the room, not when Merwin made his ‘man is destroying the earth’ pitch, which was expected, nor when he later apologized for sounding ‘preachy,’ which he ‘hated,’ because his father was a minister, he said, and he (the poet) had always rebelled against that vibe.

The audience was very quiet; it was a respectful ‘let the old guy rant’ silence, and Merwin felt it, no doubt, which was why he later apologized.  It was Jorie who set the tone, however: “Oh!  The oil slick!”  “Turn off your cell phones, please, while my students read their poetry of homage!”  It was really quite horrible.  And then in-between: Joanna Klink’s actual introduction of the poet, endless and cliche-ridden, with her smiley-faced: “Merwin has won every prize.  He’s won them all!” 

The poetry, frankly, didn’t help.  It couldn’t rise above the oppressive occasion.  Most of the time the audience hadn’t the faintest idea what the poetry was saying.  Merwin’s poetry doesn’t say very much; it drifts from one simile to the next, the metaphors not explaining or embellishing, as with Shakespeare; Merwin’s metaphors compare and philosophize in a highly mystical way; Merwin’s poetry is existential; it’s all about what not-knowing feels like, and, when read without punctuation, that disembodied voice can be very effective, since disembodiment is really what Merwin is about—there’s really very little actual life in Merwin’s poems.  (I had heard Shakespeare’s work read at a noisy cafe open-mike the evening prior and the contrast was startling.)  Merwin has a wonderful, human, dramatic speaking voice and when he reads his poetry aloud, he reads very much with punctuation; his voice rises,  falls, and pauses in all the right places, and thus humanizes the poetry, which scatters the mist from it and reveals its depressive quality, its humorless, dull, reflective, passivity.  I looked around at the young faces in the room and noticed they were blank, and bored.

When the students read Merwin’s early 1960s poetry, I counted the word “like” until I lost count.  The passage quoted above was selected for its special excellence from “The Vixen,” a more recent book (1996) in a review by Richard Howard.  This passage does not contain the word “like” at all, so in that regard Merwin cleaned up his act; he rid himself of that indulgence; one hears in the excerpt from “The Vixen” verbs rather than simile.  But it’s still virtuous, vague, metaphysical, sleepy Merwin.

The evening was boring.  As soon as Merwin stopped reading, his Harvard hosts surrounded him. 

This was a Harvard event. 

It was certainly not open-mike Shakespeare, while the dishes rattled. 

It was more about comfort than rattle.

At one point in that deathly silence in the Thompson room at the Barker Center, when Merwin first stood up and picked up Jorie’s reference to the oil slick, he sort of looked over at her and her little group, and said, with a little shrug and a smile, “This is nothing new.  Man has always been destroying the earth.”

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